Republicans stake a claim on early ed

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, talk with reporters on May 27 before meeting privately with Gov. Dayton. Tom Scheck | Minnesota Public Radio

Republicans in the Minnesota House entered budget talks with Gov. Mark Dayton Wednesday armed with support from a leading advocate for early childhood education.

Prior to meeting with the governor, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and several other Republicans met privately with Art Rolnick, a former research director at  the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Rolnick is also a leading proponent of directing taxpayer money to help disadvantaged children attend preschool.

Rolnick said he believes child care scholarships are the best way to close the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

“We have limited dollars. Let’s use them in the most effective way.” Rolnick said. “Start with our most at-risk kids. Make sure every child born into poverty has this opportunity.”

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Republicans included funding for early childhood education scholarships in their budget but did not fund Dayton’s plan for universal pre-k for four-year-olds. Daudt said he isn’t convinced that universal pre-k is a better option.

“I don’t want to make an investment in a program that doesn’t have research that backs up results,” Daudt said.

By meeting with Rolnick, Republicans are also trying to dispel Dayton’s notion that the budget debate comes down to more money for schools versus a Republican plan to cut taxes.

But the governor insists scholarships could end up further segregating low-income children from peers whose parents still might not be able to afford to pay for prekindergarten.

"Put all the kids that are all poor in one group, you're not going to get that kind of synergy and that sense of normalcy, that normalcy which is what we want to teach," Dayton said Wednesday afternoon.

Dayton and House Republicans are at odds over education funding and other parts of the state budget. The governor vetoed three budget bills last week.

Along with the education funding bill, Dayton rejected the agriculture and environment budget bill and the jobs and energy budget bill.

Dayton will have to call lawmakers back in a special session once they reach an agreement. Portions of state government will shut down on July 1 if they don't agree on a budget.